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Found 6 results

  1. Dr. Ottoson is an Ecologist and freelance researcher with roots in southern Sweden, but now based in Luxemburg. His greatest interest for the past 30 years has been migratory birds. Although completing his PhD on parent-offspring conflict and begging behaviour, his main research focus has been on behaviour, especially orientation, and the non-breeding ecology of migratory birds in Sweden, Nigeria and Ghana as well as on five expeditions to the Arctic. For three months each year he teaches and conducts research with APLORI, (The A. P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute, situated in Jos, Nigeria). His current research activities in Nigeria involve research with Masters and PhD students on Ecology of migrants and African resident birds, the population biology of lions, elephant surveys, systematics of butterflies, bush-meat hunting, sperm competition, conservation management and so on. A few ex-APLORI students who he is now co-supervising as PhD students are enrolled on PhD programs in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, UK and of course Nigeria. At home in Luxembourg he works as a consultant doing Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA) especially for birds before the siting of wind turbines. To find out more about APLORI's work in Nigeria, visit their website here: www.aplori.org --------- Where is Yankari situated and how easy is it to get to as a tourist? Yankari is situated in Bauchi state, NE Nigeria. It is not too easy to go there as a tourist, the closest airports are Jos and Kano which are about 3 hours drive away. From the Nigerian Capital Abuja its about 6-7 hours drive. For the moment this area of Nigeria is a bit troublesome and European foreign ministries tell people to avoid making unnecessary trips to the area. What facilities are available to those wishing to visit? There are some relatively newly built Rondavels and apartments. Food is available. A very nice Natural Spring to cool down in afternoons. Based on your own background with Yankari and so little information available for people wishing to visit, what are your recommendations for visiting the reserve? For instance: can one stay inside the reserve for extended periods of time? Are you allowed to self drive or must you work with an operator / agent based at Yankari? Are foreign guides permitted to work there? Please compile a checklist of the most important things to know for those planning to visit. 1. Its hard to contact management in order to make reservations. But most often rooms are available, so you basically have to go there taking a chance. You can stay there for a longer period yes. 2. You are allowed to drive yourself but you need to carry a ranger with you and that costs extra. 3. You can use foreign guides but will always need a local guide as well. 4. Since Yanakri is big and forested and animals are not plentiful and spread out, you need a lot of time here to make it worth a trip. Prof Ulf-Lecturing on then shore of River Yuli What percentage of visitors to Yankari are foreign and what percentage domestic? Today hardly any foreign visitors at all visit Yankari, due to the travel restrictions. Expats living Nigeria who used to come here before are not allowed to travel here. Before maybe a handful of real tourists came each year. So most visitors are Nigerians coming on a day trip and on school trips maybe spending one night. How are Nigerian nationals encouraged to visit the country’s national parks and reserves? Actually no idea because I never see anything of that. My guess is very little. Why is there not more publicity about Yankari in the international press and likewise why has it not got much of a presence online? Why is more not being done to disseminate information about the reserve? Ask the Bauchi State Government who manage the Reserve. What plans does the Nigerian government have to attract both foreign tourists and foreign investors to help kick start the country’s safari tourism market? Indeed, what needs to happen in Yankari itself to make it more attractive to safari tourists? Yankari is now not a National Park, (although it was),its run by the Bauchi State and was handed over from National Parks about 6 years ago. I'm not aware of what either the Federal Government or Bauchi State is doing to promote tourism. They may try to - I never see anything about that. A past press release stated the government are to rehabilitate Yankari National Park: QUOTE “The federal government has announced plans to rehabilitate the Yankari game reserve in Bauchi state. It said the move is geared towards restoring the past glory of the reserve.” When did this rehabilitation project begin, what do the plans consist of and what evidence have you seen of it making a difference to the reserve? How important an issue is it for them? Well, I guess this was during the former government, during the last 5-6 years nothing much has happened when it comes to rehabilitation: a bridge here and there have been mended. Most things are neglected and have been so for a long time. How do Nigerian’s themselves, (as in the people and not government), view wildlife conservation? Mostly no interest at all, they don't know what it is, for most people is not a reality. Of course there is some awareness around protected areas. But for most Nigerians wildlife is something you eat. What are the local domestic Wildlife conservation NGOs and how are they involved with Yankari? Nigerian Conservation Foundation worked in Yankari in the past and may be on their way in again. WCSworks in Yankari with helping the rangers and monitoring their movements. They also try to prevent the cattle rearing Fulanis from entering the park too much. They also conduct surveys and monitoring of especially the elephants, which they also work with mitigation of elephant vs farmer conflicts. A.P. Leventis Ornithological Res Inst. Have been active in the Reserve for the last 5 years and we have done extensive research on birds, mammals, butterflies and plants in the reserve. The next step for us is now to build up a monitoring scheme. What are the current threats to wildlife inside the reserve and what steps are being taken to combat them? Poaching and the cattle rearing Fulanis are the two threats. There is patrolling in the park but it's not sufficient to more than maybe keep it down a bit. In August this year, 2012, a ranger was murdered and another injured by poachers, (Source - http://news.naij.com/7189.html) What is the security situation like at Yankari, both for those involved in wildlife conservation there, and potential visitors? What should they be aware of? Rangers have been killed or injured almost yearly I would say, the rangers lack arms and are easy targets for the poachers. It's not a security risk for the casual visitor because you will not come in close encounter with a poacher. The biggest security problem is political and outside the park In your paper entitled Yankari Game Reserve, Bauchi State - Progress Report 2011 (A copy of which can be downloaded here), you state, QUOTE: “Eight species of large mammals have become locally extinct since the area was first designated as a game reserve; these are the African Hunting Dog (Lycaon pictus), Leopard (Panthera pardus), Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), Western Kob (Kobus kob), Korrigum (Damaliscus l.korrigum), Red Fronted Gazelle (Gazella rufifrons) and Bohor Reedbuck (Redunca redunca) (c.f. Green & Amance 1987; Thacher 2006).” What species, in your opinion, will be the next to become extinct in Yankari without immediate action and why? The lion, because the fulanis are grazing far into the park which means that their cattle are being predated by lions, the fulanis then poison the carcass and the lions,hyenas and vulture etc are killed. Actually, all vultures have gone from Yankari now. From your experience and field work in the reserve, what are the positive indications regarding wildlife, compared to the quite obvious declines in certain species? Buffaloes seems to increase, elephants are relatively stable and up until we started the lions seemed to be more than like 20-30 years ago, the last with a quite big question marks seems there was no good estimates from before. But the last 2-3 yrs the lions have decreased. How easy it is to see wildlife in Yankari? What are the best parts of the reserve for specific wildlife sightings? Most animals are concentrated along the the River Gaiji in the center of the reserve, it's here you see the animals, especially during the dry season and during the day. What is Yankari’s bird life like and what are the outstanding/rare species you are likely to see, if a keen birder? Are there any endemic solely to Yankari, if so, what are they and in which part of the reserve can they be spotted? Yankari is big with many different habitats which makes the variety of birds the asset. For Nigeria its one of the few places you can still see Ground Hornbill and Secretary bird and a few remaining bustards, you also see a good variety of raptors including Fox Kestrel, Martial Eagle and Bateleaur. In the dry season the river attracts some water birds. Am I right in thinking that there is no human habitation within Yankari Game Reserve? What impact do surrounding communities and villages have upon the reserve? Has there been any effort to directly involve these communities in the running and organization of the reserve, whether it be through employment as guides, camp workers, anti poaching patrols etc? If not, why not? There is no habitation within Yankari. Most poachers are from there of course but not all. The main impacts on the reserve apart from the poaching is from Fulanis who are nomads and pass through the area mainly in the dry season. There have been a lot of community projects over the years and some are still on. Most rangers are from the nearby communities which of course has its pros and cons. How important is foreign aid and assistance for the reserve: indeed, what kind of assistance is Yankari receiving from foreign organisations? Now it's quite important because I think WCS is working to keep the patrolling running at some level, without them I don't think there would be any. What are the foreign conservation NGOs currently involved with Yankari, how are they involved, and how can people reading this interview help them, whether it be financially or logistically? WCS as above, I guess through giving money to them or contact Andrew Dunn What is your view of Yankari’s future: 5, 10 and 15 years from now? If nothing drastic is done now now, the park will slowly detoriate and in 15 years there will be nothing left, instead Fulanis and farmers will have taken over Photos of Ulf, courtesy and copyright Talatu Tende, lion and elephant images, courtesy and copyright Oskar Brattström. The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk. This post has been promoted to an article
  2. Victory Wallace in the co driver's seat, on a game drive. Victory and David Wallace both grew up in the Midwest and southwest of the USA. They met on The Aranui, a working freighter out of Tahiti to the Marquises Islands and back. During the 3 week trip they fell in love and Victory followed David to San Diego from Hawaii. David studied geology and then pharmacy, (it was where the jobs were), and Victory worked in resorts for 13 years before going back to school to get her degree in nursing. They both love the outdoors, nature, animals, birds, and travel. They are both passionate about saving wildlife and the environment and both want to be a part of doing just that. During a trip to Southern African countries in 2005 they fell head over heels in love with Africa and decided to see what it would take to build and run a bush camp. It took more than they could imagine but wouldn’t do anything differently. They have one son, Demian, without who’s help there would not be a Zikomo Safari. They named the camp Zikomo, (thank you), because they feel thankful to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world. To find out more about Zikomo Safari Camp, visit the website here - www.zikomosafari.com ----------------------------- What made you want to buy and run a safari camp? How much experience had you prior to Zikomo in the tourism industry, whether safari or other? My husband David and I have always loved to travel. When we traveled to Africa and went on our first safari we were sent to small bush camps where there were no more than 20 people and everything was comfortable but rustic and wild. We fell totally for the way we felt in the bush; alive and excited to just be there. I told David we should figure out a way that we could stay in Africa full time, not just come as tourists. He told me it sounded great, but really not very realistic. When we got home I started googling everything I could find about buying a camp and looked specifically at Botswana and Zambia, (our favorite places). It all looked like huge money and I put it on the back burner until we went on safari again. On that safari I started looking for land. I knew I wanted something far away from other camps. A place that was on the water and with lots of trees. Zikomo is all that and more. Everyone wanted that piece of land, but there was a HUGE reason why no one ever got it, let alone developed it. When we found out what we were up against we thought about leaving. I am so glad that I have such an amazing family. David and our son Demian chose to stay and fight for it with me and without them, there would be no Zikomo. Before Zikomo I had worked in resorts for a number of years and then I went back to school, became a registered nurse and took care of people in a different way. How does the reality of owning and running Zikomo live up to your original dreams? I love being at the camp. There isn’t a day that I don’t look around and think about how lucky I am. It is much harder than I ever thought it would be. When I thought about having a camp I had this idea of a few bungalows with a couple of guides. Somehow it never occurred to me that it would be like running our own city. To run a camp in the bush you have to run a restaurant, a bar, a mechanics shop, a laundry, housekeeping, an office, a store, and then there are the guides and the airport pickups and drop offs, coupled with minor emergencies, and keeping track of it all. Once in awhile I even have to be the nurse. And then there is all the paperwork, licenses, permits, regulations, not to mention you have to become your own ad agency and market in a very competitive market! It’s a lot of work, but to live and breathe where elephants, lions, leopards, wild dogs, walk through…so worth it! How long did negotiations for the land take and how were you accepted initially by local land owners? That was a nightmare! We were given 3 different pieces of land and were dealing with a Zambian guide who was supposed to be working for us but instead was busy ripping us off. Each piece of land had some problem and when we finally got the land Zikomo is now on, we found out it had been ‘given’, (code for sold), 5 times. Each time the hunting camp 2 kilometers away drove the people off with one visit. We wouldn’t go. Our son was on the land when they came and warned him to leave. It took us 6 years of lawyers, court, fighting for it, to finally get the Title Deeds and a 99 year lease. How we got it is because of the stubbornness of my husband and son and the fact that we wanted to own a camp to be part of what kept wildlife safe. That was how we saw camps like ours. When we found out that elephants were being shot on the land we decided we could not walk away and live with ourselves. What have been been the difficulties you’ve encountered and how have you overcome them? The difficulties were that nobody wants someone new to come in. Other camps didn’t want us there. The hunters didn’t want us there. We had to battle on every front to stay. Now that we have proven ourselves to be people who don’t run away easy and who want the best for this area, many camps have started to be kind to us and even send business. It’s nice. But difficulties are part of being in Africa. Actually just part of being alive. There will always be difficulties and we will work through them. What was the design brief for the camp and how arduous was the EIA process? Since we are right on the Luangwa River, we wanted the main block to be in the middle of the camp and the chalets to all face the river and be on either side of the main block. It has worked out really nicely. We are lucky we have a floodplain on the front of much of the camp so it doesn’t wash away the way the cliffs do. The camp is spread out so there is a park like feeling to it. What was arduous about the EIA? All of it. There is so much red tape and every single part of the process is at another location. You can’t just go to one building and take care of things. You run to Lusaka for this license, then to Chipata for that, back to Mfuwe for this paper and on and on. Very time consuming and at every point there is the need for money, money and more money. What are the camp’s eco credentials? For example, how is grey and black water treated, waste and rubbish disposed of? How is energy generated for the camp’s electrical supply and from where did you source the building materials used in the camps construction? All the materials are local. We sourced lumber from the forestry department, bought local grass for the roofs, used sand, stone, palm, thatch, the camp is made African style with Mopani poles, porcupine thatch roofs, brown and red soil walls. Everything is purchased locally. We have solar batteries and panels and a generator for emergency. The electric lines were just too far away to consider at first and now we really like staying off the grid. We just keep buying more and topping up the solar. We have septic tanks designed Zambian style. Water tanks with a bore hole and since recycling is now starting to be available are trying to do that as much as possible. The paper and other burnable products we dig a pit as far from the camp as we can and dig it deep! All left over food, cardboard, biodegradable stuff is put in the compost and used in the garden. Even in the campground we ask the campers to keep their leftover food hidden away till the security guard picks it up in the morning otherwise, if they put it in the trash bins we will have the same baboon problems they have in Mfuwe. Once the baboons know they can get food somewhere they never leave and get more and more aggressive. We have a couple of wild baboon troupes but they just move through - they don’t stay. How do you interact with local communities and how does it benefit them to have a tourism operator in their area? We have been operating now for 2 and ½ seasons even though we have been on the land since 2007. It took so much money to fight the hunter and to build and stay. We really started out hand to mouth. It has been growing and people seem to really like the camp. I keep hearing that our camp is the kind of bush camp you look for but don’t think exists anymore, until you get to Zikomo. I like that. This year we started Nsefu Wildlife Conservation Foundation a nonprofit organization registered in Zambia and California to fight poaching and to help the community through community projects that will create jobs for locals and help fund scholarships for children in the Nsefu sector. We always wanted to have a nonprofit to give back and help. Helping to stop poaching isn’t just a moral issue, it’s a business one which all camps should think of. Without elephants, lions, why would anyone come? We have a responsibility to help save wildlife and make sure that the poaching stops! We are working with an amazing organization that is one of the best in the world at stopping poaching through cutting edge techniques. We will have an announcement about the program soon and I will tell you at Safaritalk exactly how it is done. Since it is now being discussed I can’t say more than this. How many local Zambians work with you at Zikomo and what positions do they hold? Can you introduce a couple of them to us here, what their roles are and talk about their backgrounds? We employ 25 people and they are all Zambians. The only white faces you see are ours. Zick Kolala, (a Zambian of course), is our manager and has been in tourism for quite awhile. He has done managing, working as a guide, and is game for anything. When he first came he actually quit a job that paid higher to come and work with us. He is one of the few Zambians I have ever met that think long term. He told me that it was okay if he lost money at first because he knew Zikomo was going to be the number one camp in South Luangwa one day and he planned to work with us his whole life. He is very keen on our nonprofit: on the board of the nonprofit in Zambia we have our family, our co-founder Coe Lewis from California and the rest are Zambians. We have a business in Zambia. If we can find Zambians who can do the job why would we outsource? Doesn’t make sense unless we couldn’t find anyone qualified, but we can and did. Who are your guides and what is their previous experience in the safari industry? How many are from the local area? We have two full time guides plus Zick who can fill in if needed. We are in the process of hiring one more. Masumba is the senior guide and he has a lot of experience working for Robin Pope safaris for a number of years and then he worked in North Luangwa and Lion Camp. Ephram is a protegy of Masumba's and although he has less experience, he has a great personality and takes learning very seriously. They are both local and so is the guide we are thinking of hiring. In terms of wildlife, what was the Nsefu sector like when you first moved in compared to how it is now? To what factors do you attribute these changes? When we first came to the land there were not many animals who stayed too close. Since our land was one of the worst poached areas and the hunting camp routinely hunted on it, elephants either charged or ran. Nothing came around. Now, it is very different. We had lions born at the camp last October and wild dogs denning across the river and playing on the riverbank. Elephants routinely come to the camp day and night. We have one big bull I call Billy who comes more and more frequently, to the point the dogs play with him. Funny thing when the elephants started coming they would always go to the outside gym and sniff this one area. We couldn’t figure out why it was their first stop until a worker told us that he had worked for the hunting camp before and the area by the gym was an old soak-a-way or drain. The hunting camp used to butcher animals in that space and drained the blood into the drain so they wouldn’t attract predators to their camp. The elephants were stopping there to see if the blood scent was old or fresh! Since there wasn’t any fresh blood, they would put their heads up, look at their family and lead them in. There are so many more animals now. They feel safer. They don’t hear gun shots all the time and that is making a huge difference. Seven years of no hunting on the land and 2 odd years of us operating makes a huge difference. What is the game density like in your area? What might a guest expect to see on a walk or drive? What would they consider themselves lucky to see, i.e., what are the rarities including birds that one might encounter? Everything except cheetah, (the land is not conducive to them), rhino, (although one day soon we will bring them back!), and ostrich, (just isn’t here). There are prides of lions, frequent sightings of leopards, wild dogs, giraffes, zebras, eland, impala, hyena, hippo, crocs, kudu, puku, bush buck, Cape Buffalo, civet, honey badger, porcupine, bush babies, monkeys, baboons, snakes, wart hogs, and of course my favorite; elephants. You name it we have it. The only animals that you can’t guarantee are the night predators. Some people see lions every time they go out, day and night. Other people don’t see one in four days. You can’t book them. It is a matter of the right time, right place. There are over 450 species of birds in South Luangwa and there are so many to see it’s a wonder. Since we have so many big trees and fruiting trees we have an abundance of bird life. Tell me about birding at Zikomo and the Nsefu sector. What is the best time for birding and what species are regularly seen? What about the Pel’s fishing owl, have guests been lucky enough to see any around camp? Although I was not a birder before we had Zikomo I always loved birds. I have 2 African Grey parrots that I got as rescues in California, but I was not up on birds the way birders are. I have seen enough now to say I am fast becoming a birder. I love the different bee eaters and during the migration of thousands of Carmine bee eaters, (in late summer and fall), we get many thousands on the cliffs by the first chalet. Fish eagles, yellow crested cranes, it is truly a birders paradise. I will have to ask the guides about the Pel’s fishing owl. What are you doing to help wildlife conservation aims in South Luangwa and how do you interact with conservation organisations and government authorities? I already mentioned our new nonprofit and we plan on working with the existing conservation organizations in South Luangwa. The Nsefu sector is large and when there is a problem in Nsefu it takes too long for someone to come and help from Mfuwe, especially if they are already trying to help in another area 2 hours away! We don’t want to take anything away from anyone else, only add to it. We are also trying to work closely with ZAWA and include them in our conservation work. What examples of poaching have you seen in your area of South Luangwa and how efficient are authorities in dealing with it? Poaching is a horrible problem everywhere and we get enough sightings of different animals that have stumbled into snares and need help to have them removed coming over the radio to know it is a big problem. There are sometimes gun shots in the night and we know that it is poachers. That is another reason we started NWCF to stop poaching in Nsefu and everywhere else we can. I have been told at least 4 elephants are poached out of the park every month, but that is just what they know of. This greed which produces pain and suffering for the wildlife and then pain and suffering for humans as the money from poaching goes to support terrorism, there is a direct connection. What is your relationship with other tourism stakeholders in South Luangwa? We are developing good relationships with many different lodges and companies and we hope to continue making friends and alliances. If things we need are available locally we buy it locally. We try and support people we see doing good work like Tribal Textiles. Tribal Textiles is a wonderful company that has created so many jobs and makes the most beautiful textiles. We use a lot of their product at the camp and will soon start selling it at the gift shop. How easy is it, as a family run and independent operator to attract guests and have exposure in what is I assume a competitive safari sector? Starting off is very difficult. Many lodges have been around for many years. Some of them have names people recognize. People don’t realize that they have been sold and are no longer owned by the person who’s name is the reason they came. But all of that changes as people come and see what you do. We have return guests and we have only been open 2 and ½ seasons. We have people who come for a day and stay for 5. Every year we are more noticed and we have the best location I have ever seen in all the places we went on safari. We have great chefs, friendly staff, loads of wildlife, comfortable lodging, great guides, and all in all an amazing place. I think we will be very successful. With regard to marketing Zikomo, how do you position yourself as a property and what is your target clientele? What is the break down by country/region of your visitors? About the last thing we got to was marketing. After fighting to survive and stay we were really low on money by the time we opened. We had no money for marketing. That is now starting to change and we are positioning ourselves as an affordable bush camp. We try and work with people as we don’t think just the rich should be able to go on safari. We actually wanted to use a sliding scale but people aren’t all that honest if they think they can save a bit. It is amazing when you are new how many people want you to give them a discount. I usually ask them if they give discounts at their business and they look at me like I am crazy and don’t get the irony. This year we are going to Cape Town and Indaba travel shows. Next year we will hit a lot more of the shows. We are listed with Africa Geographic and Zambian Tourism but we are also trying to take advantage of social media marketing and asking travel agents and tour operators to stop by and see the camp. We get a lot of Dutch, German, people from the UK and some Americans, Spanish, Italians and lots of campers from South Africa. We are amazed at how people hear of us and how many people they send after they have stayed with us. Really a complement to have referrals. Can one specify use of a private vehicle and if so, what is the daily cost? Further to this, what are your game drive vehicles and how is the seating arranged? What about equipment for photographers, i.e., lens mounts etc? With advance notice people can get a private vehicle and it is about $300 per day. We try to never take more than 9 people in a game drive vehicle and usually less. We have one Land Cruiser that we keep the top off for photographers and are upgrading by buying 2 more Land Cruisers. We also have a Land Rover and a Hilux game viewer. The bush is really hard on vehicles. One is always in the market for another it seems. We would like to have mounts fixed for photographers in the future but do not have them now. We also plan on opening during rainy season this year or next and having a swamp cruiser that is already outfitted for cameras. What in your opinion is an optimum stay at Zikomo and how would a visitor incorporate it into an extended Zambian itinerary? What activities would you cover during that time? That depends so much on what type of visitor. For photographers, 10 days is probably not enough. For the average tourist, 4 days is a good amount of time to see some amazing places and wildlife. We are really lucky that our bush walks start right from the camp. We don’t have to drive somewhere and then start the walk. There are many great areas to go to, like the hot springs, different parts of South Luangwa National Park, the escarpment. Morning game drives are always wonderful but the late afternoon, early evening can be just as exciting. We have just started volunteer safaris where people can choose to spend one or two of their days doing anti-poaching patrols/bush walks with rangers to try and find the snares poachers leave that can so badly cripple or kill an animal as small as a civet or as big as the elephant. We are also working with the local elementary school who so appreciate any help with the kids since the teachers are overwhelmed by the number of students per teacher. Eventually we will have many more volunteer activities as Nsefu Wildlife takes on more community projects. What is the future both for yourselves and Zikomo Safari Camp? We plan on keeping Zikomo Safari for the rest of our lives and when we are gone putting it in trust so it will continue to be a small, wild, bush camp with just enough comfort for people to want to stay, but never so much civilization that they forget where they are! We want Nsefu Wildlife Conservation Foundation, (NWCF), to co-exist with Zikomo helping the community with jobs and education, safeguarding the wildlife and keeping a good relationship with the people of Nsefu. Nsefu is the name of our sector and is the name for the eland and Zikomo means ‘thank you’ in Nyanja. We are thankful every day for what we have and that we can share it with other people is the best! We would not have Zikomo Safari right now and would not have been able to start Nsefu Wildlife without some amazing people who jumped in, (without question), when we were floundering. My friend of 30 years, Tony Hunstiger who although he had never in his life dreamed of being a part of a safari camp, came to our rescue because he believed in what we were doing and today does as much as he can because it is now his dream too. And the there is our friend and co-founder of Nsefu Wildlife, Coe Lewis, who is an animal advocate and a media personality in San Diego who has helped put our anti poaching project into warp speed by bringing in Dr. Tom Snitch who is one of the two top guys with the new drone projects which started with South Africa and is coming to Zambia. And of course Zick Kolala our manager who dreams big. And my two rocks on which all this is built; my husband David and our son, Demian, without them Zikomo would be a dream stuck in my head! Demian came to Zambia to save the land and built Zikomo. He lived in a tent with no running water or any conveniences while he built the camp and fought our battles! David still works full time to support us, (until we can stand alone), and puts up with us being separated 7 months of the year while I help run the camp taking on the 14 rescue animals we have in California! We are so blessed We want Zikomo to help make South Luangwa a true sanctuary for bird and wildlife and a great place for people to experience African safaris. All photos courtesy and copyright Victoria Wallace/Zikomo Safari Camp. The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.
  3. Julian Brookstein Name – Julian Brookstein Date of Birth – 09 August 1979 Qualification – Zimbabwean Professional Guide Place of Birth – Harare, Zimbabwe Julian was born and raised in Zimbabwe and is a third generation Zimbabwean. His interest in the outdoors and wildlife began at an early age when he used to attend junior guiding camps in the school holidays. He has grown up keeping everything from scorpions to rats as pets. It was at age eleven that Julian told his parents he would be a guide. After completing his schooling and attaining a diploma in Agriculture in Zimbabwe, Julian went to South Africa to further his studies and attained a diploma in guiding and lodge management. After completing the diploma he returned to Zimbabwe. He started his career as a canoe guide on the Zambezi River guiding multi day trips in the Zambezi National park, also working as a white water Rafting guide on the rapids below the Victoria Falls. Due to the downturn in tourism Julian went to the UK in 2002 and began working on a cruise ship. He worked at sea in the galley of the liner and climbed to the position of Chef De Partie, third in command to the head chef. During this time he travelled extensively throughout Europe. With a burning desire to come home and get back into the bush he returned to Zimbabwe and began working for Wilderness Safaris. He managed and guided in their camps in Mana Pools and Hwange National Park. At the beginning of 2011 Julian joined Camp Hwange as part of the new management team. Julian holds a Zimbabwean Professional Guides license. As a Zimbabwean professional guide, he is well versed in all aspects of the African bush and has gone through rigorous training and exams, both practical and theory. It is this and a passion for the bush that make guests as enthusiastic as he is. To find out more about Camp Hwange, visit their website here - www.camp-hwange.com ---------------------- Julian, please tell us about your background – how, when and why you became involved in safari tourism/guiding and what is your experience in the safari sector until now. I grew up in Harare but always loved wildlife and Zimbabwe’s wild places, always getting out to the bush whenever I could. I went to children’s bush camps numerous times as a child and it was after one of these bush camps when I was about ten that I told my parents I would be a Professional Guide. I never changed my mind so they started to steer me in the right direction. I went to Agricultural College and then did a diploma in Guiding and lodge management. I started in the industry as a Learner Guide, (see question 2), in Victoria Falls in 2001 as a trainee canoe guide and trainee rafting guide. Due to the situation in Zim Ieft for UK in 2002 and spent some time there before returning to Zimbabwe in 2007. I was adamant that I would finish my Zimbabwean Professional Guides license so got straight back into the industry and passed my full license in October 2010. I have been living my childhood dream and guiding in Zimbabwe ever since. What is the training regimen required to qualify as a professional guide in Zimbabwe? How did you cope with it? To answer this question I have put in a little piece that I wrote a while back explaining what I went through to get my license. I knew from a young age that I would be a professional guide so was always focused on achieving it. I loved every minute of my journey to qualifying, even the final proficiency exam. The first stage in the process of becoming one of Africa’s finest walking guides is a written exam for your learners hunters/guides license. The same exams are written by all who want to be hunters and guides. These exams are conducted twice a year in February and September. The exams written are: Habits & Habitat Firearms The law pertaining to the Zimbabwean hunting/guiding industry General All of the papers are two hours long and you have to pass all of them with a 60% or more average to be issued your learner’s license. If you do not pass all of them but pass three or more you may keep those results passed and write at the next sitting the ones you have failed. If you do not pass three or more then you re-write them all. You will also need to have passed your basic first aid course before you are allowed to start guiding. So with your basic first aid and learner’s license you are now allowed to guide but only in a vehicle. You will now join a safari company if you are not already employed by one and have to start an apprenticeship under a fully qualified Professional Guide. Generally the apprenticeship should take between three and four years however some people have been known to take up to ten years to get their full license. During your apprenticeship you will be expected to do anything and everything that comes up in the industry. This ranges from fixing tyre punctures to gaining the knowledge of fauna and flora of the country and surrounding countries, hosting guests in an entertaining and knowledgeable way and everything in between that life in the bush can throw at you. The slang term in the Zim industry is you are now a gopher…because you can be sent to go for this…. and go for that…. At any time day or night! These years can and should in my opinion be very tough at times but enjoyable for the apprentice as that is what will make he/she the guide of the standard that Zimbabwe is famous for. During these years you will have to personally hunt/skin/butcher at LEAST, four dangerous game animals, (Elephant and Buffalo), to be considered for the next level. It is in your interest to shoot the Elephant in particular with frontal brain shots as this is the only shot you will ever really take as a guide. If you have not taken the animal’s frontal brain there is a good chance that you will be told that you need to gain more experience and the interview stage which you will read about later. You have to keep a record of everything mentioned above in a log book. It is in your interest to log every activity you do from the maintenance work in camp, vehicle and the concession. Drives undertaken, walks that you have accompanied fully licensed guides on, (of which there will be many!), approaches done on animals - in particular “dangerous game” and of course all your hunts which you will need to have photos of you with the animals shot, you skinning and butchering etc. On everything that you log you will need to have your mentor sign and comment on the activity undertaken. Basically if the activity is relevant in the industry and to you becoming a Pro Guide then log it. Wherever possible and if National Parks were involved you should get them to stamp your log book. This is very important, especially for your hunts. So now if you have at least four dangerous game animals in your log book and you and your mentor think that you are ready for the next stage then you must now do your advanced first aid course which is a week long course with an exam at the end. You must pass this exam to get your certificate. Then you will have to register for the shooting exam which happens twice a year in February and September at a shooting range. The minimum caliber allowed in Zimbabwe to guide is .375. Saying this it must be noted that you will be marked down if you do not hit bulls eye with a .375 as opposed to using a .458 or bigger - this is due to velocities and bullet weight etc and the ability for a bigger caliber to perform better if the shot is not 100% accurate. This exam entails various exercises that are aimed to mimic an animal charging in and away, chasing up a wounded elephant etc. All of these shoots are timed and you are scored on accuracy. After you have done all the shoots your scores will be added up and you have to achieve a certain grade to get your shooting certificate. You have to shoot accurately and fast to pass this exam. So now if you have passed this you will now have: Learner guides license Advanced first aid certificate Shooting certificate At least four dangerous game that you have personally shot A log book with all your previous years experience noted Now you need your mentor to write you a letter of recommendation stating that he/she feels that you are ready to be interviewed for final proficiency. You take this letter to National Parks and you show them all of the above and you register for the interviews which happen twice a year in February and September. The interview is a tough process; you will be standing in front of 8-10 qualified hunters/guides with at least ten years experience with a full license. As a guide you will be expected to identify a range of mammal skulls ranging from dwarf mongoose up to lion and anything in between. You will need to tell the examiners what and why each skull is going into dentition, eye placement, skull morphology etc., etc. After doing this you will shown a big range of skins and asked to indentify these again explaining your answers. After you have been through these you will have questions fired at you by all the interviewers on anything and everything that the industry entails for anywhere up to an hour or more in some cases. You will then be asked to leave the interview room while the examiners deliberate. You will then be called back in and told if you have passed or failed. If you fail you will not be told why and you will have to register for the interview again in a few months time. The words you want to hear are “we would like to invite you to proficiency” Proficiency happens once a year in the first week of October. What will normally happen is you will team up with another apprentice or two to split costs and you will be expected to set up a full fly camp in a area that you will you will told about a month or two prior to the exam. You may only go and set up two days before the exam officially starts. You will have to set up a fully functional fly camp with space for at least two guests, (who will be examiners). Your camp must cover everything from ablutions to dining area etc. Your camp will be expected to run for a week so you must have all food, drink etc on site for the week long exam. You may take in some camp hands to assist in the running of your camp e.g. a cook and a waiter. On the day the exam officially starts the examiners will come in a inspect your camp and you will have to show them around. Normally then the apprentices will be divided into groups of about 5-6 and this will be your group for the whole exam process. Then for the next week you will be out in the bush with your group and examiners everyday all day with them and they will be testing you on whatever they want during this time. You will be doing approaches, being asked any question they can come up with out there covering all fauna and flora, tracks birds etc., etc. Each group will be allocated animals that will be hunted over this period. As a guide you will have to shoot an Elephant on proficiency. To digress slightly here, all apprentice hunters and guides have to go through all the above stages. Hunters obviously following their chosen profession more and concentrating more on the hunting side of things and they have to have at least five dangerous game animals in their log book and they must have experience with cats also. You will all be together on the final proficiency. Generally all the guides on the proficiency exam will be shooting Elephant and some hunters will shoot buffalo as the hunters by now will have had a lot of experience in the hunting of dangerous game. Normally an apprentice hunter will be teamed with a guide and the hunter will have to get the guide into position for a frontal brain shot if it is a elephant and it will vary if the animal being hunted is a buffalo. The guide then has to take the shot with the hunter backing him up with the examiners watching. If it is a frontal brain shot on an elephant you have to drop the elephant with one shot or everything you have done up to now is of no use and you will fail immediately and have to come back the next year to proficiency. However if you have done well in everything leading up to the shooting of the elephant in the examiners eyes and you drop the elephant with a good frontal brain shot. Then you will then be expected to. with your group, skin and butcher the elephant as to a set standard. With only six of you this is no easy feat. Throughout all of this you will be getting examined. The skinning etc is very important but definitely your frontal brain shot is the most important part of the exam. If you do all of this and the examiners are satisfied and pass you, you are now licensed to walk guests and are a……. Zimbabwean Professional Guide. Your's truly undergoing a briefing with Julian prior to approaching an elephant. Courtesy and copyright, @@Safaridude. How, as a guide, do you mentally prepare for taking each individual client/group out on a walk, especially when approaching dangerous game? How do you prepare you clients before and during each walk? Walking is what Zimbabwean Guides do. Our training as you have read about above is second to none in the industry. This means that by the time you are licensed to walk you will know animal behavior and how to act when in the various situations that arise when walking. Be it having an Elephant Bull slowly walking up to you or a lion charging you. Your training will kick in. So I guess to answer your question in a round about way, I am always most relaxed and happy when walking in the bush. If the guide is relaxed the guest is generally relaxed. I always talk my guests through what is likely to happen when we approach different animals and tell them what my reaction will be. Basically when approaching dangerous game each situation is different so stay close and listen to me! Of the many walks you’ve done, what have been your top five in terms of encounters and why? It would take a while for me to write about my top five. I always write about my encounters soon after they happen and post them regularly on my blog and facebook. I have posted some of them in the guides story section here on Safari Talk. I think that all of them have their own appeal. The time I managed to get my four guests and me in on our bums to about fifteen meters from a lioness feeding on a buffalo. We then sat and watched her feed for a while before pulling out is up there. Also when I managed to get my guest and I in amongst six elephant bulls and shared a moment with them. That was spiritual for me. I will continue to post my stories here on Safari Talk so you can read them if you are interested. Tell us about the history of Camp Hwange: who is involved for instance? What had to be done to secure the concession? When did you move into the concession and what was the area like when you first took possession of it? What changes have been made to open it up for safari use? (Other than camp construction.) What are you still planning to do to improve tourism infrastructure? We moved onto the concession in 2011, when we first came here we basically had to open the road to get in. We followed an elephant path in and that is still our main road in today and is still used by the elephants. The area was basically virgin - we arrived and we had to open up all the roads on the concession, we now pump the waterhole in front of camp and also pump the waterhole on the edge of our concession, taking the maintenance of it over from National Parks. What the design brief for the camp and how long did the EIA process take to complete? What have been the hurdles encountered to date? The Design brief was always that it was to be a beautiful bush camp and that was it is. If we as the guides are doing our jobs you will not spend a lot of time in your room or in camp for that matter! There have been all sorts of hurdles along the way, basically ones that any new camp operating in Africa will encounter. The EIA took about six months from start to finish. We had someone from museums and monuments and the representative of the EIA Company at the site for it. We operated as a tented camp for a couple months is 2011 to get the word out that Camp Hwange was here. When returning from a drive one morning on a particularly windy day I was looking a the tented camp from a distance and thinking to myself, “I am sure there was four tents when we left.” As we got closer we saw just the toilet sitting there to remind us that there was indeed a tent there when we left. The guest whose tent it was turned out to be a great sport and laughed. What are the camp’s eco credentials? For instance how is grey and black water treated and from where is water drawn? Why does the camp not have a plunge pool? How is waste material disposed of and recycled? Electricity generated and supplied? Etc… All the lights and water heating in the camp run on solar. We have a bank of solar panels and batteries at the back of house. We do have a back up generator, which is run for a couple hours a day to supplement charge the batteries. Our black water system in camp is septic tank and soak away. We do not have a plunge pool because we don’t feel that in an area that it is so hard pressed for water it is right to be swimming. As far as waste material, we take all of our rubbish out of the park and dump It at the council dump in Hwange Town. It is quite a task as a busy camp can create quite a bit of rubbish. A recent discussion on Safaritalk with interesting input surrounds the use of internet, wireless connection etc whilst on Safari, (for more see here), what is your opinion on the use of internet whilst in camp, use of Ipads, tablets, iphones etc and what facilities do you offer guests should they need to use it? This is an easy one for me. No Internet in camps, you are in the bush! We do have satellite email in the office for staying in comms with the office that if a guest has an emergency they can use it. Be prepared to wait ten minutes for a page to load though! How large is the concession area and what habitats/biomes does the concession comprise of? How does each biome cater for different species? The concession is roughly 50 square km, which is a good size. It is a brilliant area as we have mopane, teak forest and grassland. These are basically the biomes that Hwange has and we have all three on our concession. All the biomes cater for different animals at different times of the year. The teak generally is not the most productive of areas however if you want to find elephant bulls in the wet season, the teak is a good place to start as they are in there feeding on the new grass. Once it starts to dry up then work the mopane and grassland. How do annual weather patterns impact upon wildlife densities in your concession in Hwange and what instances have you seen where severe weather patterns have adversely affected animal behaviour? All of the pumped waterholes are basically in the more northern section of the park so as it gets drier and drier many of the animals gravitate to the North. To give you and example towards the end of the dry season all of the water points still holding water are getting frequented by huge numbers of animals, particularly elephant. This means that the vegetation surrounding these points comes under massive pressure and its nutrient value is right down. When the rains come many of these animals bombshell to areas of the park that now have natural water and vegetation that has not been touched for months. We can go from seeing 500 elephants one evening then we get a big storm as the rains start and you will go to the same waterhole the next day and not see even one. In 2012 we had a particularly bad dry season and there were elephants dying all over the park. We had over twenty die at our waterhole in front of camp. We did also save nineteen baby elephants that were stuck in the mud in our waterhole. The following two seasons we have not had to rescue any. One of the concession's resident males crossing between 2 Camp Hwange vehicles. Courtesy and copyright @@Safaridude. What differences in wildlife behaviour have you noted from when first opening the concession till now? What are the most productive hotspots in your area and why? What are the rarities you’ve seen on the concession and how have guests reacted to seeing them? We have seen huge differences in the way the wildlife behaves on and around our concession. When I first came to the site of the camp I was living in a tent cooking on a little fire where the office now stands in camp. I did not see a single animal round where the camp now stands for months. Gradually we started to see stuff. For example when we first saw the lions that were the resident pride then they would run for thick cover soon as they saw the car. We would then try and park at a distance and just wait it out. Once it got dark they would get braver and come up to the car, especially the cubs who were very inquisitive after dark. Slowly they got more used to us, it took many hours just parked at a distance waiting for dark. Till finally we have the lions we have today that are very relaxed round cars. We are now working on making them relaxed with us on foot. That is another story! As far as hotspots, if I had to pick one it would have to be Dwarf Goose pan I think, it is just a very popular waterhole. As far as rarities we see Serval very often in the grassland round camp. We also see Aardwolf quite a bit on night drives. How was Hwange National Park affected by Zimbabwe’s recent tumultuous past in terms of both conservation and tourism and what signs of recovery are you seeing now tourists are returning in numbers to the country? Tourism basically died from about 2000 onwards dues to all that was happening in Zimbabwe then. A lot of camps and operators shut down, as there was just no business. However the wildlife in the parks generally continued to do well. Obviously there was and increase in poaching due to the times but no to the extent that was being reported in the media. We are now seeing a huge increase in Tourism in Zimbabwe, which is fantastic. What is being done to promote Hwange National Park to a safari going audience and what, in your opinion does it offer over, for instance, Kruger National Park in South Africa? What more can be done in your opinion to attract a greater number of visitors? All of the operators in Hwange and indeed Zimbabwe are working tirelessly to promote their camps and the country as a whole is back on the safari map again. I don’t have a lot of experience with Kruger but do know that I never want to work in a place that has tar roads and the possibility of getting a speeding fine as you do in lots of Kruger. Basically for me Hwange is still wild. We have guests who come and ask why some of the animals are so skittish. The answer is that this is still a wild place; there are no fences here and no masses of traffic. We can do a full day safari sometimes and not see another car the entire day. How do your guests usually combine Hwange into a more comprehensive Zimbabwe itinerary and what are the logistics of visiting Hwange and then other areas or viça verça? A lot of our guests will do a combination of possibly Hwange, Mana and Kariba for example, which I think, works well. Also you must remember that Hwange is huge and to see the Sinamatella area does not mean you have seen Hwange. The main camp area offers a whole different side to be seen. To access Sinamtella it is an easy two hour drive from Victoria Falls and then another hour of you want to come to us at Camp Hwange. If you were planning to go onto Main Camp that would be another two hours of driving to reach there. It is a massive park. Buffalos at the camp's waterhole. Hwange’s pumped water supply: one obvious question is how sustainable are the pumped pans and waterholes in the long term for wildlife concentrations in the park? Have they led to a reliance by certain species to the detriment of not only others but the ecosystems as well? What happens if pans are no longer pumped, (as has been the case in the past) – what happens to wildlife in that area and likewise, how does the environment recover and how quickly? Is there a simple answer: can the pumps be switched off indefinitely, or at least rotated in order to create a mini migration pattern? The pumping of water in Hwange has always been a topic of discussion and will continue to be for a long time. Are they sustainable, that is the big question. How old is the water that we are pumping? Is it renewing itself or are we pumping aquifers that don’t renew with the rainwater? These are questions that I don’t know the answer to I am afraid. If you read Ted Davison's, (the first warden of Hwange), book, you will see how the numbers of animals began to increase dramatically since the introduction of the pumps. The huge elephant population in Hwange relies heavily on the pumped water in the park. This does however create immense pressure on the vegetation surrounding these pumped water points in the dry season. An elephant will only go so far from water before it has to return to drink. I have been told by a reliable source that there are over one hundred boreholes in the park and at the moment around sixty are pumped in the dry season. If those other forty or fifty odd were also being pumped in the dry time it would make a massive difference. I do know that now that we pump we can never stop, unless you want to see a huge die off in animal numbers. How does Camp Hwange interact with The Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Authority and other tourism and conservation stakeholders in assisting conservation efforts in the park? We have a very good relationship with ZPWMA are always happy to assist in any way that we can. We currently supply the diesel and maintain two parks pumps as well as our own pumps. We also assist them with deploying of rangers on patrol and also assist in the maintenance of the roads in the Sinamatella area. We also recently donated in the form of time, money and volunteers to the Sinamatella school. We have plans in the pipeline now to donate another two engines and diesel to pump another two waterholes within the park. How were traditional wildlife migration routes affected by human developments in the 20th century? So now, what are the migratory routes still left open and when do wildlife migrations occur? Surrounding Hwange National Park, where are the wildlife dispersal areas and how do communities benefit from having wildlife in their areas? The bottom line is that we as humans have pretty much stopped a lot of the big mammal migrations now due to us ever expanding and squeezing these animals into smaller and smaller areas. There is work going on now to try and establish migratory routes and trans frontier parks etc. I am not so sure about some of them as they will open routes that will take these animals into direct conflict with humans. Humans that are not so keen to see these animals in there areas, and if they do see them may just look at them as a source of protein. As Hwange has no fences animals can and do disperse to all areas around the park like the Gwaai, Ngamo, Tsholotsho, Matetsi and into Botswana. There is a very good program called Communal Areas Management Program For Indigenous Resources CAMPFIRE is the acronym. This basically is a Zimbabwean community-based natural resource management program. It is one of the first programs to consider wildlife as renewable natural resources, while addressing the allocation of its ownership to indigenous peoples in and around conservation protected areas. It has been working very well for sometime now, though there have been a few hiccups. In terms of poaching, (which was particularly highlighted last year with the elephant poisoning case), where are most instances occurring and what type of poaching is it? With Hwange being so vast, how difficult a job is it for authorities to regularly maintain anti-poaching patrols? Just how important is the cooperation of local communities in combating poaching? Poaching is an everpresent threat to Zimbabwe’s and indeed the world's wildlife. There has of late been a massive increase again in ivory poaching throughout the region as was highlighted in the cyanide poisoning cases last year. Majority of the poaching is happening on the boundaries of the park but It is a huge task to police Hwange as it is so big, and sadly the ZPWMA are under funded and under manned. They do however still do their best and do get results. I feel that the incorporation of communities is key is combating this threat as someone always knows something! What are the logistics and options for self drivers visiting Hwange and of all the public rest camp areas, what are your favourites and why? There is decent road network within the park and it is great place to self-drive and explore on your own. There is also a decent number of public campsites that can be booked in advance. They range from decently equipped to very basic and most have an attendant that is always happy to help. I think as far as my favorite, probably would have to be Masuma. It is a very popular waterhole, I have seen lion and Cheetah kills there aswell as a number of other amazing sightings. You have been involved in focus group meetings for the new Hwange National Park Management plan: so what does the future hold for Hwange in terms of tourism, (ie how many more properties can be developed), conservation, (ie elephant population control, drilling of more boreholes), and incorporation of bordering communal areas, (and communities)? I have been involved in these meetings and we are still waiting to hear what the outcome is from this. We all put a number of ideas and plans forward but we will have to wait and see what comes of it. As far as what does the future hole for Hwange. I like to believe good things. We have to remain positive, if you live in Zimbabwe you have to be or you will become very depressed very fast! All images courtesy and copyright Julian Brookstein and Camp Hwange unless otherwise stated. The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk. This post has been promoted to an article
  4. Ona Basimane Ona was born and grew up in Maun, Northern Botswana. His passion for the natural world started at a young age when he had opportunities to visit the Moremi Game Reserve as well as several trips to Lake Ngami. After finishing school, he joined the Botswana Predator Conservation Programme as a field assistant. His interaction with the study animals such as lions, hyena, leopard, cheetah and African Wild dogs on regular basis fueled his passion for wildlife and conservation. Following the urge to work in an environment where he could work with both people and wildlife, he switched to guiding in 2007. He later joined Wilderness Safaris in October 2010 and spent almost two years at Kalahari Plains before heading to Duma Tau camp, where he spent another two years before joining the Wilderness Safaris Guide training team in May 2014. Ona is a keen photographer and an aspiring wildlife photojournalist. His images and articles have regularly appeared in numerous travel magazines including Peolwane, the Air Botswana in-flight magazine; Discover Botswana, the annual publication by Botswana Tourism Board; as well as Travel Ideas magazine in South Africa. His photography makes him a great ambassador for his country and perhaps the pinnacle of his guiding career so far came when he was invited as a guest speaker at Wild Shots Wildlife Photography symposium 2013 in Cape Town. He also shares a lot of his images with the company’s Facebook page where he has often received a lot of accolades for his work. Ona combines his role as a guide with mentoring and inspiring young and upcoming guides as he travels through various Wilderness camps. His passion for photography has led to a big interest in animal behavior and behavioral ecology. He also enjoys leading walking safaris where the focus is on macro life that one would completely miss from the vehicle. He is also a keen birder who participates in various Birding forums around the Southern African region. Ona is both a highly sought after guide and guide trainer for Wilderness Safaris - www.wilderness-safaris.com -------------------------- How did you first become interested in wildlife and who, later, were the greatest influences upon your guiding career and why? Being born and raised in Maun meant I always had wildlife at my doorstep. The hundreds of hours I spent either on foot or on horseback herding the family cattle in the Boro area kept me close to nature and wildlife in general. We also had a lot of school trips to the Moremi Game Reserve and Lake Ngami as I was growing up. By the time I was at high school, I was a member of every environmental club around school mainly because of the lure of traveling to nature reserves. It was through all these that I knew I wanted to work with wildlife although it took a while to figure out in what capacity. After school I was always either volunteering or working around Northern Botswana with various wildlife biologists and the interest soared from there. However I have always been an outdoor person so after a while the interest in writing reports and filling in field data started to wilt away. I was now getting more interested in working with people and guiding was very appealing at this stage. I then joined &Beyond Botswana as a trainee guide, where I met Frank Mashebe, (the company’s regional guide trainer at the time) and Graham Vercueil, (the group guide trainer). These two gentlemen perhaps shaped my guiding style and career into what it is today. Frank’s knowledge and passion for life at macro scale as well as his enthusiasm for adventure makes him one of the most underrated guides in Southern Africa. Graham was unbelievable in his way of teaching; he was calm and had a very soft voice that somehow made you hang onto his every word. He really had a special way of getting his message across that I really enjoyed and envied. Along with another guide trainer, Bryan Olver, these gentlemen inspired me to think about guide training as a career path down the line. Later I met Grant Reed, (Specialist guide and guide trainer at Okavango Guiding School) and I was awed by his knowledge and passion for sharing it. I spent some time training under him and learnt a lot about birding and botany. The hours we spent, either at his office in Maun, or on foot in the Kwapa area helped build up my knowledge and showed me room for improvement all the time. One major career lesson that I also learnt from these masters in the field was humbleness. As much as I was always overawed by their presence, they never blew their own horns despite all their achievements as guides. They were all keen to take me under their wing and help me develop as a guide. Frank continues to be instrumental with his guidance about life away from work and he is always a horn away whenever I am stuck and need advice. When you are young, the ability to stay humble when there is a bit of hype about you can be tricky and humbleness is something that I drum into the aspiring guides all the time. In your feature on the Wilderness Safaris website, it mentions how you are now involved in guide training. What are the qualities you look for in an aspiring guide and how do you mentor them to reach their full potential? Although I spend most of my time guiding, my official title with the company is that of guide trainer. I am part of a team of six along with Anthony Bennet, who is the Head of Guide training, Brian Rode, Chantelle Venter, Cilas Mafoko and Onamile Lekgopho. We recruit and train guides to the company standards and place them into camps. One major thing I look for in an aspiring guide, which is also our view as a team, is personality. Every guide starting up will always have a very small base of knowledge and we are always looking for people that have the hunger to grow themselves from the basics. Being a trainee guide to me is like being a commercial pilot looking for your first job. Someone has to give you a chance in order to build up your hours and be considered experienced, and without that first chance it will always be difficult to establish yourself. This is often a huge gesture for any company to hand out to an unknown considering the risks involved. A guide with the right personality and hunger to succeed will always grab the opportunity and develop himself or herself further. So when I am interviewing an aspiring guide, I always look for that hunger, a passion to work with people of diverse cultures and a true passion for nature conservation. The right age, (ideally in their early 20s) and good grasp of English makes it easier for us trainers to transfer knowledge and skills to them as well as mould them into great guides. Once the guides are in the system and gone through our training, it is essential to keep tabs on them and to continue providing mentorship. When I am guiding in the camps, I often invite a trainee guide to join me on game drives or walking safaris and I also join them on their game drives. This is to help improve their knowledge and drum in the company standards at the same time. Once they are guiding on their own, it is paramount to look for any signs of watermelons growing under their armpits from time to time, (a sure sign of over confidence). It is so easy for a trainee to develop some attitude after three or four good feedbacks from guests and when that happens, a one on one discussion often mends everything and they get back on track for good. The most important thing here is to ensure the lads realize their full potential by demonstrating to them that they have a big world and bright future ahead of them as long as they do not go off the rails. In Botswana, what are the steps to becoming a guide and how intensive is the training, (comparing for instance to South Africa or Zimbabwe), and how long does it take for someone to become fully qualified? A very important question that I hope to answer fully; the guide licensing system in Botswana is currently in a transitional stage from an old basic system to a more comprehensive one that will hopefully, on paper at least, align us with the best in the region, (being South Africa and perhaps Zimbabwe). Under the system that is hopefully being phased out, a prospective guide would either apply to sit the exam directly as independent candidate or study at an institution and then sit the bar exam with the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism. For those that went to institutions, course lengths varied from three months to a year. In my opinion, the exam that would grant you a guide license was always very basic. It did not thoroughly prepare guides for the industry, as it did not cover everything required to produce a competent guide. The onus was always on companies to develop the newly qualified guides pretty much from scratch. Since not all companies provided training, the rest of the guides not employed by Wilderness Safaris, for example, struggled to find jobs and develop further. If they did find jobs, it kept the general standard of guiding very basic henceforth because of lack of further training and assessment. Things are now under review and the new concept, if adopted well, will certainly address this. Under the new system in discussion, there will be levels from Level 1, (which is more of a foundation qualification), to Level 3, (which would be the highest qualification). At Level 2 and 3, there will be strands such as mokoro poling, boat, vehicle guiding and overnight safari guiding. A guide will have to undergo assessments and be deemed competent in order to attain a particular strand and will carry out only activities that reflect on his qualification certificate. To allay fears of losing guides under the new system, there is a strong emphasis on “Recognition of Prior Learning” so that the guides that attained their qualification a long time ago will have their prior experience endorsed into their new qualifications. This new qualification system will also ensure that a guide license will now be regarded as a national qualification guided by the National Vocational and Qualification Framework, (much like the FGASA qualifications in South Africa). Whilst the new system makes all the old system seem elementary, I have to say Botswana has nonetheless produced some fine guides over the years under the old system. The guiding standard has always compared considerably well with the rest of the continent. Quite a few guides have gone on to forge great careers and serve the tourism industry well. The likes of Bakang Baloi, Frank Mashebe, Grant Reed, Moa Monwela and Vic Horatius, to name but a few, are all quintessential examples of how guides could still develop themselves to a bigger stage despite the limitations I spoke about earlier. Since joining Wilderness Safaris in 2010, what have been your personal highlights? 2010 seems like a decade ago when I look at how I have developed here, both personally and career-wise. It is difficult to single out highlights as I have had a fantastic time throughout. While I am a guide first and foremost, I hardly ever place emphasis on awards or the rich and the famous I have guided. My main aim is to consistently deliver a great, guided experience to every guest that arrives at which ever camp I am at. Every guest that leaves with his or her expectations having been wildly exceeded makes my day. A personal highlight that perhaps stands out would be when Harriet Nimmo, (Founder of Wildshots Wildlife Photography Symposium), invited me to be a guest speaker at Wildshots Wildlife Photography Symposium in 2013. At the time the invitation was a bit of out of the blue and to be honest I was puzzled. It was only at the conference that I got to know that the recommendation came from Don Pinnock, the former editor for Getaway magazine, after I guided him for four nights at Duma Tau Camp a few months earlier. Also I had always had a dream to see myself training and mentoring aspiring guides in this country, so being asked to join the Guide training team here last year was another highlight of course. I now find myself in this beautiful space where I train guides but I still get to guide regularly and therefore my photography isn’t suffering either. Let’s talk photography: what came first, becoming a guide or the passion for taking photographs? How has your photography evolved and what have you learnt from those who you have guided? What has been the best photo you have taken and why? I actually guided for the first two years without a camera at all but I had a desire to acquire one and get into photography. It was at Kalahari Plains in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve when I felt I couldn’t wait any longer. I bought my first camera from a guest, Reto Shegg, who had forgotten the battery charger back home and he was happy to leave the camera behind. I was completely clueless about wildlife photography then and also geographically isolated from the other photographers within the company at the time, being Grant Atkinson, Lets Kamogelo, David Luck and Vic Horatius. I had to learn everything from literature, or from guests that I guided and also just from loads of practice, (thanks to the digital era for it would have been too costly if I was using film!!). A lot of guests were coming through with cameras and were willing to help me with the technical workings of a DSLR. Because of my interest in photography, I was also constantly assigned to guide a lot of photographers and this helped a great deal because I was always asking for advice and some of them had websites and I would follow their work afterwards. With all this help and an occasional mail from Grant Atkinson, my knowledge slowly improved and I started getting confident enough to share some images on social media. When I started I was always cropping too tight in order to show the bore of the animal’s eye and the gore of every action. I was always trying to capture action and my images hardly ever had the sky in them. With time I started appreciating images of animals, their background and the sky. Change of camps from the semi-desert region to Linyanti in 2012 also influenced the evolution of my photography. I was now in a place with lots of surface water and within a week I had photographed lions galloping in water. People who have been on safari with me in Northern Botswana will all provide testament about my obsession with capturing that splash as a predator gallops across a floodplain!! I now appreciate photographing a subject in water or just having water as a background more than I ever did. I also remember when I started out, I would pack the camera away a soon as the light was gone or if it was raining, however now I will still shoot to get silhouettes or raindrops on the animal. As time went by and I got to know the limitations of my camera gear, I also became more comfortable with the enhancing software, (that nasty histogram!) and this improved my photography significantly. Initially I would shoot wildly and then spend hours scratching my head in front of the computer. I think I am now a little more experienced and have a good idea about when to press that shutter button. Participating in various wildlife photography forums in social media also meant I now started having an idea about what superior images are already out there and I became more selective with what I shared. Along with following these forums, I have also built my own library over time. This now means I have become more selective with what I shoot and may not just shoot because I have a camera. Another critical factor has been my improved knowledge and experience when it comes to animal behaviour. I am no expert but in most situations I can safely anticipate the subject’s next move from a very small gesture and my vehicle will be ready in place to capture that. When I am at a sighting, I am constantly looking at different possibilities, thinking ahead about what might transpire and what potential the sighting has got to give us that wow moment to capture. This is something that I think, comes with experience and improved background knowledge on animal behaviour. As for the best shot so far, that’s a very difficult one; one thing I have learnt is I would fall in love with a particular image for a few days or weeks but the excitement dissipates when I get something even better. That said, and because of my earlier confession about some fetish for water splashing around a predator’s body, I will say my favourite image at the moment is the one from Mombo Camp recently when I had Wild dogs chasing a pair of hyena though a pan. The hyena were closely following a hunting pack of six dogs and when they got to the water pan, I decided to hang back on the other side of the pan incase a fight ensued, and we would be in good light. The move paid off nicely as the wild dogs instantly turned around and had a real go at the hyenas with water splashing around them. How easy is it to engage a guest in conservation discussion? What percentage of the visitors you guide demonstrate an in-depth knowledge in the important issues facing wildlife in Africa? And what, as a guide can you do to encourage that knowledge? The threat to African wildlife seems to be a fairly universal topic at the moment and awareness around the situation seems to be reaching many ears around the world, especially in Europe and the North and South Americas. Unfortunately I have not guided enough Asians to gauge their awareness, or lack of, to give an informed opinion. Whilst I cannot give a firm number, the majority of the guests coming through are already aware of problems facing African wildlife. Some guests keep returning to Africa because they believe part of the fee they pay ultimately goes towards conservation and thus they are making a difference. Some actually are involved heavily in providing support to various wildlife research projects across Botswana. Conservation is a topic that I find quite easy to engage everyone in. I also keep old copies of Magazines that highlight such problems and often lend them out to guests to read and have more informed opinions if they are interested. I still have the Africa Geographic April/May 2012 issue that was especially dedicated to Rhinos and also have the issue where John Hanks and Ian Michler discussed the pros and cons of trophy hunting. Guests are always keen to read those during their stay and it gives them a more in-depth analysis around these pressing wildlife conservation matters. A guide’s passion for conservation is always infectious hence the animals will win a few hearts of sympathy. It is therefore very important for guides to go the extra mile at following all the good, the bad, and the ugly news surrounding African Wildlife and share those with guests constantly. It is important to share the figures, be it poaching incidences, animal poisoning incidents or just individual conservation success stories. Conservation is at the core of why we are guides in the first place and therefore I personally believe guides have a mammoth role to play. Photography is another venture that can help spread the message and since guides are always on the ground, they can easily help raise awareness by sharing their images with the world via the various social media outlets that are at our disposal today. As a guide trainer, I appreciate that now I am training new age guides with great technology around them compared to when I started out. I encourage them to use this modern technology to benefit their guiding careers as well as conservation. They now acquire cameras and share their images with the world via the social media. Lately I have noticed that every time I get into a camp, there is someone with a new camera and they need some tutoring, something that is quite encouraging. Photography has become, and will continue to be, a powerful tool for wildlife conservation and the more cameras out there, the merrier. How do you assess what a guest wants from their safari and how do you balance the needs/requirements of one with those of another. (Especially when it comes to being in a shared vehicle.) I think it is absolutely imperative that a guide knows the specific interests and needs of every individual guest in his vehicle because every single guest should at the end of their stay, be satisfied with the effort that the guide put in towards meeting and perhaps exceeding their expectations. I always try and find more info about every individual either from the booking sheet, (Nationality, Age, dietary requirements, camps they have visited before, camps they are going to next), or by asking questions when I pick them up from the airstrip. Occasionally I will chat to the guide at the guests’ previous camp and will pick up on their interests before they even land at my camp. Observation can also give one a hint; for example, a guest coming off the plane carrying big brand binoculars and a telescope is most likely to be a keen birder whilst a guest coming off the plane with big camera gear is clearly interested in photography. I will try to have as much info as possible before the first game drive. This way I can plan their stay and line activities in a certain pattern. Regardless of how diverse the group’s interests are in the shared vehicle, the focus should be on each individual and ensure they feel they are in the right vehicle. While we don’t succeed all the time, we always try and have people with similar interests and expectations in the same vehicle and it always helps when it works out well. While it is occasionally tricky to address every individual’s needs and interests, I have to admit that most guests coming through often have similar interests and are always willing to compromise in certain situations. They all understand that they are in a shared vehicle and flexibility is key towards enhancing not only their own their safari experience, but that of the other people in the vehicle as well. Most safari tourists to Botswana, (as other countries), are limited by time: despite being able to say they’ve visited Botswana, they fly in and out of wildlife destinations but how much of Botswana do they really experience? What do they miss by just transferring directly to Camp A, B, C then flying home? What more does Botswana have to offer the visitor and what can be done to open up cultural tourism in the country, combine it with wildlife tourism? For many years Botswana was marketed as a wildlife destination more than anything else in terms of tourism. I cannot personally fault anything here because an iconic place like the Okavango Delta will always heavily overshadow everything else from the start. Literature and Wildlife documentaries from places like Chobe National Park, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Okavango Delta and the Savuti have sort of created this cliché that Botswana tourism is more of a wildlife destination more than anything else. Due to limited time, as you say, tourists traveling through will therefore mainly choose these wildlife destinations. It is also a challenge to combine these wildlife destinations with cultural tours because of distances between in situ cultural, archaeological and historical attractions, and the wildlife destinations. Because most wildlife concession areas are often removed from the local villages it becomes important to incorporate as many cultural experiences as possible through the people employed in the various camps. Wilderness Safaris, for example, has partnered with various communities in the region for many years and made sure that the community’s stories are well portrayed. Perhaps a cultural activity that has been successfully drafted in along with the wildlife experience has been the mokoro activity. The mokoro was first introduced by the Hambukushu tribe. They were a fishermen tribe that arrived in Botswana in the mid 1800s from Angola and settled around the panhandle, with some venturing further south along the river’s course. Most of the camps in the Okavango Delta offer mokoro activity along side safari activities and in some instances tourists have witnessed some incredible wildlife sightings from the mokoro. A few years ago some guests at Little Vumbura Camp witnessed lions killing a Red lechwe ram from the mokoro. Another cultural activity that has often being offered in camps has been basket weaving. The Wayei people in northern Botswana are renowned basket weavers and a lot of their descendents are currently employed in the camps in various positions. During their spare time, a lot of them weave baskets that they get to sell in the curio-shops. In some camps, some are happy to demonstrate their basket weaving skills to guests. This can be quite popular especially for families traveling with young kids. Time pressure has a created a feeling that the cultural, archaeological and historical sites may not be attractive enough to motivate visitors to explore these places exclusively. However for people that have time, there are quite a few cultural destinations spread across the country. In northern Botswana, the Tsodilo hills, (a UNESCO World heritage Site) and Gcwihaba caves are renowned for the San rock paintings. Central Botswana boasts the Makgadikgadi area, Goo-Moremi and Old Palapye ruins to name a few. Venturing further south, one can explore the National Museum, the rock arts at Manyana village, the Kolobeng missionary site and a few other places that gained popularity from missionary explorers. All these destinations are well promoted through the Botswana Tourism Organisation. Cultural tourism is on the up in the country and people are slowly becoming aware and becoming more interested in visiting these sites. Physical infrastructure is improving and thus making them more accessible. Along with the infrastructure, I think it is vital that local residents around these places are given vigorous education about the history of the sites. This can help identify passionate resident guides that will make such a trip memorable to the visitor. This will also create employment opportunities as well income to the communities living around these monuments. Whilst safari tourism to Botswana’s prime wildlife destinations seems buoyant, what about tourism in the more marginal wildlife areas? What percentage of Botswana’s annual visitor number book to visit such areas and what, in your opinion, can be done to encourage more? It is well documented that Botswana is a low volume, high value safari destination. The Botswana government is adamant to continue supporting this effective tourism model so as keep the destination as exclusive as possible and in so doing protecting this fragile environment for future generations. Marginal areas are potentially more affordable and attractive to specific tourism sectors, such as the mobile safaris and self-drive tourists and assist in diversifying the industry. These areas provide basic services such as camping grounds with facilities and some have much more rustic lodges. These so-called marginal areas therefore are essential to tourism in Botswana as they help cater for people with limited budget, especially citizens, and also cater for people that enjoy rustic, back-to-the-roots safaris. These areas provide services for the mobile safari industry hence I feel they are a playing a big role in diversifying tourism in the country. While I do not have figures to support my opinion, I believe that self-drive and mobile safari operators are popular and financially benefiting many citizen operators. Also most of the marginal areas are in close proximity of local communities hence they play a big role in involving local people in conservation. This is through creation of jobs and small businesses that develop to provide small services around these areas. It may be vital to note here that a lot of the marginal areas were previously under the control of the consumptive tourism sector, therefore it is essential that local communities are involved in the current set-up in order to change mind sets, where need be. It is also essential that local communities derive direct benefits from tourism in order to help conserve nature around these areas. The Community-Based-Natural Resource Management policy was implemented in 1993 to address the above, and although a work in progress, it has created a sense of ownership of most of these conservation areas by the local communities. What is your view of the high cost low impact safari tourism model and can it be applied to all wildlife destinations in Sub Saharan Africa? Why does it work so well in Botswana? High cost-low volume, (better explained as low volume–high value), policy promotes the conservative use of sensitive environments and at the same time creates exclusivity. By keeping the visitor volume low, sensitive habitats are protected from over utilization and at the same time demand to visit these destinations increases. As a guide, I personally like the feeling of being out there and knowing that there is probably only so many vehicles that I may or might not even come across. There is never the jostling to squeeze into a sighting that is often associated with places that have too many safari vehicles out. Despite the basic qualification system for guides that I spoke about earlier, I think the low volume-high value policy also keeps the standards of guiding high. There is a lot more integrity from guides and the hunger to be among the best drives the standards. Since there are only so many companies, guides have to constantly up their game in order to be marketable and find jobs with relative ease. On conservation front, it is a policy that will surely ensure that wildlife destinations remain pristine for the future. There is a much smaller human footprint because camps are smaller and fewer. Would it work in other countries? I personally think implementation success would be dependent on a few factors. The country’s human population, its distribution and land use, as well as geography of the areas come to the fore here. For Botswana it was feasible then and it’s a success because the population of the country is only about two million people, and was significantly even smaller when the policy was put in place. A small population meant a lot more land could be set aside for wildlife conservation without depriving people of land for farming for example. Currently almost 40% of Botswana’s land belongs to wildlife. The iconic areas that are driving the policy in Botswana at the moment; being the Okavango Delta, the Linyanti/Chobe, and the Savuti only had small pockets of human settlements. Most of these were subsistence fishermen and farmers. Present land use around wilderness areas is a major factor because communities may not simply be uprooted to make way for exclusive lodges and safari camps. In terms of geography, the policy seems to thrive where there are iconic places of world renown. The Okavango Delta, for example, is an iconic landmark that lures a lot of visitors every year. A country must heavily market their iconic places as well in order for the concept to work. High abundance of wildlife is also key because people pay higher premiums for a combination of great wildlife and a sense of exclusivity. Having elaborated on the above, I also think political stability in the country is vital. It is a no brainer here that a feeling of lawlessness, corruption and greed often drives not only potential investors, but also potential tourists away. A strong political will towards nature conservation and a drive to improve citizens’ livelihoods through tourism also helps to market a country as a wildlife destination and people will be willing to pay for this experience. As more and more properties cater for the high-end luxury market with the associated amenities for that demographic, i.e., plunge pools, bush spas, wi-fi Internet access, mobile phone networks etc., how can these developments be balanced with the “green” ethos? And how can the impact of such safari properties on the environment be minimized? What of the thought that the luxury market place is getting ever further away from the true ideal of being out in the wilderness, being part of nature itself? The tourism industry is about people and their needs dictate the market. The market is a very dynamic one and companies have to create or follow trends that can generate business. Whilst plunge pools, bush spas and all those modern amenities attract business and help penetrate the associated demographic market, it is important to ensure that a safari destination remains a safari destination. It is up to companies to create a balance between the in-camp luxury and a safari feel about a camp. By running away from these modern trends, one is simply turning down business from the sector of people who love their extra comfort and luxury. Having said that, there are only a handful of camps in Botswana that provide this level of high-end luxury and they all do their best to create a balance that ensures the place remains a wildlife destination. We are very fortunate that Botswana has always been marketed as a wildlife destination and most of these high-end lodges are in areas where the density and diversity of game is high. Those camps market the wildlife ahead of in-camp luxury, and perhaps this is why I am yet to meet a guest who came to just soak some sun in camp and enjoy massages without going on game drives. It is all about creating a well-balanced experience with the right balance of luxury and exceptional wildlife viewing. I personally believe that in order to maximize your safari experience one needs to completely disconnect from the daily stress that life brings in order to reconnect with nature. Guests have to appreciate that the amenities such as wi-fi are of limited use and should not affect theirs, or the safari experience of others in camp in any way. Most companies with these high-end lodges also have more rustic camps as well that cater for those who do not care for the ultimate luxury. These two sets can even be combined in one itinerary to get the best of both worlds. While it is attractive to have all these luxurious amenities, it is important to keep an eye on the carbon print that comes with their usage. I have to say here that most, if not all, of these extra amenities are environmentally friendly especially in Northern Botswana where surface water and sunshine are relatively abundant. Some companies are actually even going the extra mile by opting to use solar power and cut back on carbon fuel usage. This further sends a conservation-conscious message since not every gadget can be powered by solar. Imagine a visitor has 3 weeks to spend on the ground in Botswana, (as a first time visitor): what, in your opinion, would be a great itinerary which provides a good overview to the country’s highlights. Why would you recommend such an itinerary? Is there a lower cost alternative that would offer something similar? The major wildlife destinations are the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the Okavango Delta and the Linyanti/Chobe/Savuti complex. The Central Kalahari is a semi-desert and the game viewing there can be spectacular, especially during the rainy season. I would encourage visitors to start there and then head into the Okavango Delta. There are some camps that mainly provide water activities such as mokoro and motorboats in the Delta so I would combine a water-based camp as well as a drier camp in order to truly experience the Okavango. The Linyanti/Chobe/Savuti region is renowned for high concentrations of elephants and predators so that’s another major highlight. Such an itinerary provides for a variety of habitats and game viewing plus a variety of activities to indulge in. If one is on a limited budget and want a more adventurous safari, they could experience all these regions by mobile camping safaris. Growing up as a child in Botswana, what emphasis is put on wildlife and the environment in the school curriculum? In your opinion, what improvements could be done at a school level to encourage a greater understanding of/involvement in, conservation matters? The school curriculum offers such subjects as social studies, environmental studies and geography from primary school level. These subjects aim at teaching pupils about nature, environment and conservation. Most, if not all schools have active environmental clubs that offer education on nature conservation and protection of natural resources. While the theory is great and the message reaches the right ears, I think it is important to beef things up with a lot of field trips. Some schools do offer a few trips a year, but I think more can be done in order for the school kids to understand and relate. Trips to the game reserves and national parks may provide inspirations to some kids to take on wildlife conservation as a career path. Also such trips may help kids educate their folks back home about conservation. What incentives exist for Batswana, especially the younger generation to visit the parks and reserves? What is the cost of “going on safari” for a Batswana compared to SADC visitors and those from overseas? First of all I think we should divide wildlife destinations in Botswana into two based on affordability; the game reserves and national parks, as well as the exclusive camps and lodges in private concessions. Figures from the Parks and Reserves Reservations Office, (PARRO), indicate that Batswana pay lower park fees compared to SADC and overseas visitors in parks and reserves. It should also be noted here that the best wildlife destinations are in the northern part of the country while the younger generation with good income are mainly based in the central to southern part of the country, (in the cities). Now the question is how much interest in nature does these youth with good income have? A few years ago, youth in the cities preferred a weekend in Johannesburg or Mafikeng than camping in Moremi Game Reserve in my opinion. However this is changing, (through better internal promotion of local destination tourism) and lately Maun is buoyant with citizen tourists during national holidays and it is something that indicates a change in mindsets. A lot more Batswana are taking up camping and traveling in northern Botswana and this is the only way that incentives may be increased to cater for the numbers in the future. It is indeed an encouraging sign as it also boosts local communities that run campsites, small lodges and mobiles safaris in marginal areas. Exclusive camps and lodges charge higher rates and affordability therefore, becomes an issue with Batswana. This is perhaps why there are fewer citizen tourists in these places on annual basis. However some companies offer discounted rates for Batswana and it is something that can be appreciated. In some companies, Batswana are treated as walking-in clients and thus enjoy highly discounted rates. Once we have more and more Batswana becoming aware of this and taking advantage of these rates, I am sure more companies will come on board and recognize the local citizenry as a potential market that can be enticed and tapped. How important is it for local communities in Botswana to be involved in the conservation process? Decision-making? Benefit directly from wildlife management? As someone once said, you can’t teach conservation to an empty stomach. People will only protect something if they see a direct benefit from its existence. There are a few communities that inhabit some areas around the wildlife management zones. Some of them may have been farmers, or simply living off the land over generations. It is important to involve such communities in decision-making processes as this helps to reduce conflicts between people and the governing authorities as well conflicts between the people and wildlife. Their involvement leads to people being more informed and hence appreciate certain decisions aimed at protecting wildlife. Consultation is something that is deeply rooted in Batswana’s culture and local people always appreciate being involved in decisions regarding their land and other natural resources. It is always important to get their buy-in through consultation and perhaps education about wildlife conservation. Most importantly people want to see the benefits of certain decisions before the buy-in. While conservation is always aimed at protecting natural resources, it should also improve the livelihoods of local communities. This may be in the form of job creation, improved infrastructure and general income. Botswana has done relatively well with this approach hence there are fewer cases of subsistence poaching compared to the rest of Southern Africa at the moment. What benefits do people in Botswana see from Safari tourism? Obviously it’s important for the country’s economy both on a national and local level but again what of those living in marginal areas? How is revenue from concession leases etc., distributed? Tourism is the biggest employer in the private sector in Northern Botswana. A lot of youth find employment in lodges around the delta as well as in companies providing services to those lodges. As for marginal areas, the Community Based Natural Resource Management, (CBNRM), was set up in the 1990s to ensure that local communities derive benefits from tourism in their areas. Community trusts were set up to administer lease fees and their distribution to the local people. This has over time improved the livelihoods of these people. Companies operating in marginal areas have a big obligation to employ and train locals so as to improve their livelihoods. By so doing, communities see direct benefit from tourism in their areas and therefore they conserve the natural resources around them. The concept has worked well over the years and has helped curb the persistent issue of subsistence poaching. Whilst a lot of the world’s media focuses upon the iconic species, how worried are you by the increasing instances of poaching of lesser-known species in Botswana? For instance there has been a growing trend in the illegal trade of pangolins, (whether for meat or scales), but yet it still attracts little focus by NGOs other than grass roots organizations. My worry here stems from the fact that we do not have figures to know whether we have a problem in our hands or not. I am as clueless as the next man since not much research is being carried out on these lesser-known species. Efforts and funds seem to be concentrated more on iconic species such as elephants, Rhino, the big cats, Wild dogs, Roan and Sable antelopes to name a few. Funding from the government, the private sector as well as from philanthropists must be allocated to research work on these lesser-known species. It is the only way that we can pick up trends in populations and attention can be brought up in cases where there are sharp declines in populations. The illegal trade in pangolins is a worrying one because Botswana has pangolins too. For now though there are no known poaching incidences on this species here. At least for now we can draw a little comfort that the media is raising public awareness on pangolin trade. By highlighting the problem and showing figures, may be the funders can divert some support towards research on these species. I do not blame the NGOs because they all rely on external funding and such funds come with priorities. It is up to the media to continue with the sterling work on uncovering these bad practices so as to bring attention to people that could help. How much of a threat is the illegal bush meat trade to Botswana’s wildlife and whilst one can consider areas such as the Okavango Delta to be relatively safe, what about areas closer to the borders? Illegal bush meat trade is a threat to a lot of countries in Africa, and Botswana is also feeling the negative impact of this to some extent albeit on a smaller scale than certain neighbouring countries. I personally don’t think there are that many places that can claim to be immune to it. Whilst most of Botswana seems to be well protected, there has been some occurrences of internal bush meat trade, and also some more serious cross-border poaching along the northern borders. The physical geography of the Chobe/Linyanti region makes it vulnerable to poaching and we do read or hear news about the Anti-poaching patrol teams engaging possible poachers in the region. The region has a very high concentration of elephants and poaching for ivory will become a significant threat in the future as the continent's numbers dwindle. In the past few years the Government declared that one of the Botswana Defense Force’s primary mandates as one of protecting its wildlife resources. This has assisted in controlling the subsistence bush meat trade to some degree, but some of the remote outlying areas remain vulnerable. Poisoning of poached animal carcasses is of great concern and this is having a heavy negative impact on scavengers, particularly vultures. Most of the areas that generally appear to be vulnerable to poaching have been identified over time by relevant government authorities and measures are in place to curb poaching. Measures here include setting up of bases with active air and ground patrolling by Anti-poaching units. Joint collaboration between Government and private enterprises is also essential to curb illegal trade. Having often encountered the anti-poaching patrols around the areas I operate in while out guiding, all I can say is, I would think twice about trying to poach an animal in Botswana! Having recently interviewed Sue Snyman, Programme director of Children in the Wilderness for issue 3 of Safaritalk’s magazine, I’d like to know more about CITW’s activities in Botswana and how are you personally involved – how can you see the programme developing further in the future and what role do you want to play? The main aim of the programme is to educate and sensitize young kids about conservation in the country. It targets kids in rural areas, most of them underprivileged and living adjacent to wildlife and pristine wilderness areas. The idea is to create leaders for tomorrow who will be inspired to play a big role in conservation of Botswana’s natural resources. For more information about the programme and activities, I have attached a link that may help elaborate more about the actual activities in place at the moment: www.childreninthewilderness.com/our-programmes/botswana.html Up until now, my training and guiding commitments meant I have unfortunately not had enough time in my hands to contribute to CITW activities. I have mainly been limited to a role of role model as I go about guiding through the camps. Since the programme has also now introduced photography lessons, perhaps I can find time and contribute from that perspective. Conservation and education both have a special place in my heart and if I could contribute through photography, I will be the happiest man. Having achieved much in a relatively short time at Wilderness Safaris in Botswana, what are your goals in the next few years and where can you see yourself in ten years time on a professional level? The tourism industry is very dynamic and constantly evolving, especially in Botswana. It is always difficult to predict where one would be in a decade’s time. Two things that are very close to my heart at the moment are guide training and wildlife photography. I would like to continue making a contribution to the development of guides in the country for as long as I physically can. I believe I benefitted immensely from great guidance and mentorship during the early stages of my guiding career and it is something I wish to carry forward and help up and coming guides to realize their potential. I would also like to see myself leading specialist photographic trips across the continent in the near future. While Botswana remains a jewel in terms of prime wildlife photographic opportunities, I would like to explore other parts of Africa as well. (Matt's note: Ona will be sharing more of his images with us here at Safaritalk and I'll be adding them to this topic. All images courtesy and copyright of Ona.) The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.
  5. Emma and Anton. Situated on the boundary of Nairobi National Park, (one transfers through the park to arrive, a game drive in itself), The Emakoko is a luxury lodge owned and managed by Anton and Emma Childs. Offering a true taste of safari before or after a holiday in Kenya, (as opposed to staying in the city), with varied resident wildlife in and around the property, staying at the Emakoko gives you the chance to discover everything the Park has to offer, long before the first visitors of the day arrive. Somewhat of a treasure, most tourists bypass the park on the way to other popular destinations in Kenya and thus miss out on excellent wildlife sightings: however, more and more people are choosing to spend time exploring it, including a greater percentage of Nairobi citizens who appreciate its value as a wildlife and educational resource. Here I speak with Anton and Emma about the project, the history, the wildlife and issues of Nairobi National Park. To find out more about the Lodge, visit their website here - www.emakoko.com Anton and Emma, what are your safari backgrounds? Where have you worked prior to opening the Emakoko and how did your experiences help with the new venture? Anthony started off his career with wildlife working with Paula Kahumbu in Shimba Hills counting and documenting elephants. Whilst doing that, his hobby for snakes became more and more a part of his life and by the time he left he was not only a fountain of knowledge on elephants in Shimba Hills but also an authority on East African snakes. The industry started when both of us started working for Jake Grieves-Cook – taking over Porini Camp and the Eselenkei conservation area, from there we moved to Elsas Kopje, Ol Donyo Wuas and finally set up here. Emma really started work with Daphne Sheldrick as her PA and slowly started to move more into the field operations of the trust. After 3 years both of us decided that we wanted to see more of each other, (Anthony was working in Tsavo and I in Nairobi), and it just made sense that the only jobs we could do where we could continue with a life in the bush was to run camps. The experiences we gathered and the people we met during these 12 years were instrumental in not only building our confidence to do such a thing – but also on being able to do it at all! What is the history of the Emakoko? How did the idea come about to establish a lodge on the fringes of Nairobi National Park? What was your design brief when visualizing the concept and how did the process of obtaining an EIA impact those conceptual plans? Before the lodge was constructed, what was in this location? We both met in Nairobi national park, and on running camps it became so apparent that people were wasting so much time in the city transiting and not using what we believe to be one of the most incredible parks in the world. People had put so much time and effort into a safari, but were missing out on part of the experience. So many people left our lodges to head back home having not seen Rhino and some having not even seen lion – and yet they drove within miles of them as they drove around the park to get to their Nairobi destinations. It was a ‘no brainer’ as to doing something on the border of the park – our rules were that the park HAD to benefit and we were not to build in the park. The park is surrounded by the city and it seemed awful to then go and plonk a lodge in the park too. On top of this hotels have built on the edges of the parks and their guests benefit from the wildlife that the hotels do nothing to protect. It was imperative that Nairobi National park benefitted from tourism. Anthony literally ‘slept’ his way down the river trying to locate the perfect spot – it had to be away from the city, away from the flight path, in a beautiful area – and any an added bonus of a community benefitting from it all was also a big plus. So we found our spot and it ticked all the boxes. We were however horrified on how long it took for us to get all the permissions in place. The EIA assessment alone took 7.5 months and then planning permission etc. also took its time. The Kenya Wildlife Service were very accommodating but were also very strict and particular about how things would be done – we were surprised and pleased that there would be lots of hoop jumping for anyone else who would want to do the same. What were the challenges you faced during the planning, construction and initial opening phases? The initial challenge was getting permission from the KWS for us to transit the park at night, (transferring people), – although once they came around to the idea it was fairly straightforward with certain procedures which we had to adherer to for each transit – the security of the park and its wildlife were not to be compromised in anyway. We built the lodge in 8 months and 21 days. We worked day and night in the last month to make sure we got up and running. Unfortunately we had to move our opening date back because of the rains and this was why we made absolutely sure that we got it done this time. One of the biggest issues with the construction was the lower base of the lodge – the soil is all black cotton which shifts and therefore we had to build a ‘floating slab’ which we had not prepared for, (therefore lost 3 weeks), nor budgeted for, (an increase of 21% in cost to the base structures). We had been made promises by everyone and one by one they let us down. We opened with no electricity and no form of communication at all without having to run up the 131 steps to the top of the hill. By the end of the first year all of this had been put in place and now our focus is on improving what we have! How do the logistics of running a lodge close to a city differ to one more remote? For instance, from where do you draw water and how is waste water disposed of, rubbish recycled, electricity generated etc? The logistics are so much easier, we re-supply every week and so all our produce is very fresh. We also do not need a team of plumbers / electricians / carpenters etc as they are all in the city and can be here within ½ an hour. We have a borehole at the bottom of the lodge and all our water is drawn from this. Our electricity is now finally on the grid and we have a backup generator should in the unlikely event there be a power cut. As for our rubbish – all our cans, bottles and plastics are dropped off at Marula Studios which run the best recycling project in Kenya. In fact they also have a shop there which we take our guests too and they are a very important part of our lodge. All the cans / plastics / glasses are taken to them weekly during re-supplies and they then have the job of recycling it all. We have a compost heap for the rest. What is the average length of stay for your guests and in that time, what can they experience in Nairobi National Park? Our average guest stay is about 2 nights now. The park in our opinion is one of the best places in kenya to view black and white Rhino. Not only this but the bird life is simply amazing and particularly at the lodge to be able to see the African Fin foot potter up and down is a real treat. Another thing which I find extraordinary are the lions in this park which are very at home ambling beside your car for kilometres and are just not bothered. While people may prefer to see ‘wild lions’ I still find it so impressive how they will happily sit under your car for shade – peer through your window and even mate inches away from you without batting an eyelid. It is nice to come across wildlife that has not yet been scarred by the horrors of humanity. Mount Kenya rising above the Nairobi skyline. Everyone knows of the Sheldrick orphanage and I assume that many guests want to visit it, but what in your opinion are the other highlights of the park itself and what are its secrets which few people get to see? It is just the extraordinary wildlife. Having said this, Nairobi National Parks best kept secret is that on a clear crisp morning, (normally in November, if you are lucky enough to have the clouds clear), you can see both Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro. Not many wild areas in Africa that you can do that!!! What have been some of the great sightings you have personally witnessed in the park? We have had several dinner parties with lions observing us from the pool area – on two occasions they were eating their dinner too. We once, and sadly only once, had a large male white Rhino come up to the pool to investigate. We had, (whilst watching an enormous figure in the dark), assumed it was a hippo until he came into the light. That was an absolute highlight for us. Finally just the other day we had a Leopard come up to the foot of the bridge for everyone to see. Some of the best sightings have been in the lodge. Other than this, we have had a group of 8 black Rhino all trying to get a female, in our sights for hours. We did manage to get one, (only one), photograph. What wildlife can guests reasonably expect to see from the lodge’s confines? Buffalo, bush buck, hippo, baboons, verve, genet cat, mongoose, crocodiles, the odd lion moving through, (this is almost a weekly occurrence), – African Fin Foot, Fish Eagles amongst other extraordinary birds. What facilities can the Emakoko offer to disabled guests? For instance, what do you offer partially sighted visitors to help them have a greater safari experience? How important, in your opinion, is it that safari operators and properties cater for disabled visitors and how easy would it be for existing lodges and camps to upgrade their facilities for wheelchair access? We have one room which once across our bridge makes the lodge entirely wheelchair friendly. There are no stairs and doors have been made wider to cater for this. A safari experience is probably the only holiday in the world, (water sports, beach, skiing, fishing etc), which can be done easily in a wheel chair. Any lodges built on the flat, (so the Mara), should be able to cater for guests who are disabled, it is more when you head up to the north and have lodges perched on the edges of cliffs that it all gets very complicated. Certainly the lodges that we have run, do have a degree of accessibility. How well can you cater for families and especially those with younger children? Because of the diversity of activities we can do it is probably the best place for kids. Tying in the Giraffe Center and the Sheldrick Trust is not only educational but is so kid friendly it adds so much to the safari experience. On game drives it is lovely to get out at the hippo pools and stroll the river in search of not only hippos and crocodiles, but also the wonderful birds. In the lodge itself we are part of a large Maasai community and taking kids to the manyattas and the schools in the area, (all by foot), is quite an experience. Aside from this, we have the Athi Kapiti conservation area which has been set aside by the government for people to not only graze livestock, but also for herbivores to spill out of the park and also graze. This is a wonderful place to go for runs or walks to stretch ones legs. Finally Kenyans are renowned for their hospitality but also with their way with children. We are lucky enough to have a team of people who are more than willing to show kids the ways of the world bush style. A stylish "City Cat". How does Nairobi National Park change throughout the year, with the different seasons? What is the best time to stay in the park and what is your personal favorite time of year – why? The best time of the year is November, the park is stunningly green littered with flowers and it is the most amazing light – so capturing sun rises and sunsets at this time of year is the best time. Unfortunately the game is harder to find as the grass is longer and it is more scattered, but it is still absolutely beautiful. The proof this time, is that our city cats HATE getting wet and so tend to use the roads more often, which makes it easier for us to find them. What is the breakdown of your guests nationalities? How do they hear about the Emakoko and how important for you is word of mouth publicity? How are you trying to change the mindset of staying in Nairobi, the city, at the start and end of a safari? The majority of our guests are from the USA followed by Europe and Canada. It is through our agents that they hear about us, so travel shows and door to door meetings is how we get our name out. We are most fortunate to be a part of the Bush and beyond team who are a group of several properties who are owner run. We have therefore piggy backed on their name and have been lucky enough to benefit from this. The word Nairobi is often followed by the word ‘crime’ or ‘travel warning’. As a result of this people do, quite understandably feel it is a place to avoid. We offer a great alternative, because although we are in Nairobi, we are not in Nairobi. It is more word of mouth and tour operators visiting us which is what will change the mindset. The amount of people who have come with pre conceived ideas of visiting a ‘zoo’ and have left being pleasantly surprised is more often than not. Indeed, what do you feel can be done, not only to market the Emakoko better to an international audience, but Nairobi National Park itself? We really do need the Kenya Wildlife Service to get more on board with marketing – sadly their fight against poaching is taking up all their resources and so marketing is the last thing they have the time or the finances to do. This does fall a little in our lap and thankfully Bush and Beyond do all of this for us. Good chance of seeing Rhino. Black and white. What conservation efforts is the Emakoko involved with in and around the park and what is your relationship with KWS? We have an excellent relationship with the KWS and the community and are the link between the two – particularly during human wildlife conflicts. In 2012, 6 out of 8 lions were killed in the community area behind the lodge. Had it not been for our guides it may very well have been all of them. The community and the KWS are now beginning to bridge the gap and for the first time in a long time the community are benefitting from the park itself. We provide employment, purchase supplies and have lit up 10 bomas with lion lights for deterrents, (so far in 2 years there have been no attacks). On the KWS side of things, our presence has not only helped with guarding the boundary but also with all our customers coming in the KWS have now benefitted in the two years from USD$180,000 in park fees / vehicle and guide fees which they would never have got before. We have also purchased the materials for a look out in the park so that rangers can keep an eye on the Rhinos in an area which is close to the boundary. There is still lots to do and as our business grows our impact on the park will be much bigger, (in a positive way). How is human encroachment from the Nairobi suburbs affecting the boundaries of the park? There is no human encroachment from the suburbs into the park anymore. The bigger issue is human encroachment from the Maasai communities on our boundaries – grazing is an issue as is lions killing livestock. With regard to the proposed Southern Nairobi bypass which will cut through the boundaries of the park, (which it is believed will lose +/- 150 acres) – what impact will this have on the park’s environment and ecosystem, not only during construction phase but later on, perhaps in 5 – 10 years’ time? This has now officially been stopped. How worried are you by the second rhino poaching which occurred over the weekend of 24th - 26th of January and how will this impact upon security measures at the Emakoko? Rhino poaching is happening all over Africa – Nairobi National Park is under tremendous pressure as other than most wildlife areas where human pressures are at the most 200,000 people – this park has the pressure of over 4 million people. We are indeed worried, not just for this park but for the country and any other countries with rhino’s in it. Security is very high in the park, and in particular on our side – where the Rhinos have been poached, (another one last weekend), they have been on the suburb sides of the parks. Where we are based the communities are very tight nit and anyone seen coming in or out tends to be ‘brought in for questioning’ – there are a lot of suspicious people here and there is a huge sense of community. Added to this we have 7 Rangers on this boundary based right beside the lodge – they have so far succeeded in stopping anything happening this side. Fingers crossed it will remain… Whilst close to the city, Nairobi National Park is no zoo. How long do you think it will realistically be before Nairobi National Park is fenced? What, in your opinion could be done to maintain wildlife corridors to the south and how important are such corridors for the continuing biodiversity of the park itself? Fencing the park is inevitable – the wildlife corridors are almost gone. The park will have to be managed and the KWS will need to be taught how to do this, it is more technical then we all think! What is your long term aim for the Emakoko? In an ideal world we would have loved to have bought up more land and secured a better boundary and this may still happen. We would like to have a much bigger impact on helping to preserve the park, not only that we would like to get the community more on board with helping to preserve it too. This would mean that they would need to benefit more from the wildlife. The Maasai in this area are fiercely loyal and if they believe the park is a good thing they will protect it, likewise if they thought it and the wildlife in it was a bad thing they would have gotten rid of everything too. Images courtesy and copyright of Anton and Emma Childs. The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.
  6. CALVIN COTTAR Has been guiding in the African bush since he was fifteen years old, whether it be in vehicle or on foot travelling around the Masai Mara with him is as similar as walking through a child hood home and pointing out locations that hold never ending stories of memories. He has been voted on several separate occasions as the Best Guide in Africa and has been interviewed, by countless international reporters, travel writers, published authors, and conservationist enthusiasts. He has been a professional hunter, owned a wildlife management company and worked for the Kenya wildlife Service in the community development department, where he initiated five district wildlife associations and now does private guiding, is the owner of Cottar’s 1920’s Camp, works on the Cottar’s Wildlife Conservation Trust, and develops and explores new safari destinations such as South Sudan. Through a life time of accumulated knowledge and experience, the highest KSPGA qualification (Gold) and his unparalleled passion for the wildlife makes any experience with him a memorable one, filled with knowledge, excitement, and deep enjoyment. COTTAR'S 1920's SAFARI CAMP Calvin and Louise Cottar established Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp in the mid-nineties. The camp is situated in a timelessly unspoiled setting with sunset views stretching to distant horizons of the Masai Mara and the Serengeti plains covered in boundless game. The Camp has its own 6,000 acre private conservancy and is situated one kilometre from the Masai Mara game reserve. The location provides easy access for day and night game drives to the Masai Mara game reserve and the conservancy, game walks, and cultural interactions with the Masai community. Calvin recently joined Safaritalk, you can see his introduction here in which a few members asked questions which has led to this latest interactive interview opportunity. He has also shared his views on the restructuring of KWS which can be found here. Details of Cottar's 1920's Safari Camp can be found here www.cottars.com and his work with the C.W.C.T, (Cottars Wildlife Conservation Trust), can be found here: www.kenyawildlifeconservation.org. So please do feel free to put your questions to Calvin in the comments below after which I'll forward them to him for answering.

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